Tuesday, June 03, 2014

TOP STORY >> VA isn’t the only problem

Leader publisher

It’s never a good time to visit a government office, where they’re usually understaffed and busy. You might stand in line for 20 minutes at the post office, but you can always come back later — unlike thousands of sick veterans who sit for hours waiting for medical attention at VA hospitals.

We knew a Vietnam veteran who sat in terrible pain for 20 hours with a ruptured appendix at the VA hospital in Little Rock. He was rolling on the floor before he was finally attended to. In Vietnam, he dumped napalm that was probably made in Jacksonville.

He’s a tough old guy who lived to talk about his experience. Others haven’t been as lucky.

A federal investigation might reveal how many veterans have perished for lack of proper care — probably thousands just since the start of the Afghan and Iraq wars. Veterans from other wars have been neglected for decades.

Politicians are good at sending young people to war but are less eager to help them when they’re sick. A recently opened VA hospital in Las Vegas is the first such new facility in 20 years.

Four-month waiting periods are routine at VA hospitals, which lack qualified doctors and staff. The hospitals in Phoenix, Gainesville, Fla., and probably many others hid the long waiting list from auditors. The scandal has cost Gen. Eric Shinseki, the former Veterans Affairs secretary, his job.

But count yourself lucky if you walk out of government offices alive, as unpleasant as they often are. Have you been to the Social Security office on Kiehl Avenue in Sherwood? First, you have to find it since it’s hidden behind some trees. Then you have to find a parking spot. The parking lot is way too small for the number of visitors.

Then you check in on a big monitor that doesn’t seem to work. Regular visitors will tell you to press hard on the monitor so you can punch in your name and social security number while the bored security guard is texting.

The line at the Jacksonville post office at lunch hour last Wednesday reached to the door while one clerk took care of a customer who needed stamps for at least 50 manila envelopes.

The clerk kept printing out postage for about 15 minutes while about a dozen people looked at each other, wondering if her colleagues would come up and help her take care of the customers. Except, at the post office, they’re never called customers.

The post office isn’t the VA, where people writhe in agony, but it’s still annoying to stand in line at a government facility because employees have more pressing business to attend to at lunch hour, like figuring out what to have for lunch.

The service desk has at least three registers, but usually only one clerk will help customers around 11:30 while colleagues make themselves disappear.

No wonder people are paying bills online and avoiding the post office as much as possible.

But wait: A clerk, perhaps the postmaster, came out from behind the wall to tell someone why home delivery stopped at her home. But the clerk soon disappeared and customers started to leave.

Half an hour later, three clerks were taking care of customers, although the line wasn’t moving much faster: One family was applying for passports, and the same clerk who was running out postage for all those manila envelopes was doing the same thing for another lady with a bunch of manila envelopes. Clearly a lot of people run their business out of the post office.

Complaining about the post office is a useless exercise. We’ll just put up with the inconvenience. But the thousands of veterans who risked their lives and limbs for their country deserve better.

The Vietnam veteran I mentioned earlier isn’t doing well these days. He’s old and infirm, but even the VA couldn’t kill him, although it tried.